DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 3, 2004) - In December 2003, the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series received a new identity with the addition of AutoZone as the title sponsor. It might have just as easily been called the Jeff Fultz Series. With his track record over the past several seasons, the Cincinnati native has stamped his name on this popular NASCAR Late Model touring series with authority.
Fultz, who now resides in Mooresville, N.C. and works as a fabricator for Jasper-Penske Motorsports' No. 77 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series operation, has finished in the top-five in Southeast Series points in five of the past six seasons - including a championship in 2002 and runner-up finishes in 1997, 2000 and 2003.
Fultz returns for his ninth year of Southeast Series competition with the same No. 54 C&C Boilers Chevrolet team, owned by Jim Craig, that he has driven for since 1999.
"It's hard to believe that I started in '96 and was just happy to win one race," Fultz said. "Just getting one win at a time was really big for me then, but the more we run the better we get. The team just gels better.
"We're going to go back and try for a championship one more time. We're going to concentrate and the team's really geared up."
Fultz is ranked second on the series' all-time win list, just four wins shy of the record held by two-time champion Wayne Anderson (21 career victories). It's a mark within Fultz's reach, given his performances in recent years. Fultz has recorded at least three wins each year since 2001, including a series-high six victories in 2003. In eight years of Southeast Series competition, Fultz has collected more than $400,000 in prize money, placing him third on the Southeast Series' list for that category.
The 2004 Southeast Series schedule, which includes stops at Nashville Superspeedway (June 11) and Kentucky Speedway (June 18 and Sept. 18), will provide a good chance for Fultz to show his stuff - he owns three career victories on tracks one-mile or larger, the most of any Southeast Series driver. Although he's already a strong threat to win at these tracks, Fultz says he's trying to improve his superspeedway results in 2004.
"Our short track program is really good. Last year, it was the best that it's ever been," Fultz explained. "We're going to gear up a little bit more for the superspeedways and keep our short track cars the way they were, so we should be a little better this year."
In particular, Fultz is focused on Kentucky Speedway, the closest track to his Ohio roots. In 2003, his day at Kentucky ended early, after rear end problems with 49 laps remaining.
"It's really big for me to win at Kentucky, because I consider it my home track," Fultz said. "We get a great response from fans on our website, who can't wait to see us there, and I feel like we let them down last year. That's the place where I want to win, that's what I want to concentrate on."
At season's end, Fultz also hopes to have another chance at the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, a special post-season event for the top drivers in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division. Last year, Fultz entered the prestigious $500,000 event with high hopes and left with a 37th-place finish. It's an experience the accomplished racer hopes to improve upon in 2004.
"We had a couple of problems there last year. We broke one motor and the car just wouldn't run," Fultz explained. "It was fast but it just wouldn't run. We changed motors and then the car was a lot better. We were coming up through the field and then we broke the other motor. It was a letdown, but we learned a lot from that and we'll be prepared when we go back out there."
Fultz has dabbled in NASCAR's national series as well, making three NASCAR Busch Series starts in 2003. Admittedly, Fultz has not hit his stride in that series, but says he has no regrets about remaining in the Southeast.
"Everybody always asks 'why don't we do anything else?' We're trying, but whatever we do, we're going to do with this team because we're trying to grow together," Fultz continued. "As the team grows together, the more wins we get and the better we get - it's better for everybody."
Fultz and rest of the Southeast Series teams will kick-off their 2004 season at Nashville's Music City Motorplex - hosting its first Southeast Series race since 2001 - on Sat., April 17.